Some musicians are more than composers — they are curators of collaborations and architects of experiences. And Jeffrey Franca is one of them. From his diverse electronic EP Musicology Vol 1 under his alias ETHNO to his role as a drummer with the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann in Billy & the Kids to his influential position as the musical director of Thievery Corporation, Franca's musical path is packed with versatility, creativity and passion.
Musicology Vol 1 is a testament to ETHNO's sonic exploration and artistic evolution. While producing this EP, Franca embraced the concept of letting each song stand on its own as its own piece, separate from any signature flow.
For example, the EP begins with "The Journey," an eclectic, reggae-influenced track that transitions from global trap vibes to a unique blend of drum-and-bass tendencies. "It really touches on my love for that South London electronic vibe," Franca explains. This contrasts with such tracks as "Leaf Water," which offers a more subtle, bass-driven groove.
While Franca weaves a diverse mix of timbres and influences into his sound, he believes his signature is in his tempo, which, besides one track on the EP, resides at 150 BPM, ten clicks faster than dubstep, and a little slower than your typical jungle and drum and bass. “It's fast enough to get people to do some weird gyrating stuff," Franca says, "but then you can also bring it down to half-time and have it feel slow."
His musical journey is peppered with extraordinary collaborations, none more remarkable than Franca's role as a drummer in Billy & the Kids, a project helmed by Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. "Billy's all about theatrics and drama," Franca shares, highlighting the fluidity and improvisational spirit that define each live show. “A lot of Grateful Dead bands, they'll be like ‘Yeah, we focus on ’70s-style, like we're playing this version from ’85.' Billy’s like, 'We're playing the version from today.' That's his mentality.”
Kreutzmann’s admiration for Franca’s work with Thievery Corporation bridged the gap between their musical worlds, allowing for this collaboration. As Franca recalls, "Billy tells me that he loves Thievery, and when he moved to Hawaii in 2007, all these really seminal Thievery recordings were coming out at that time, and he was like, ‘Man, I just love driving around the island, listening to your music’ — even though he’s aware that I didn’t join the band until 2010.”
Franca recalls that Kreutzmann’s manager Benjy Eisen, who has been a friend of Franca’s for about ten years, would always say, "Billy is dying to play with you." Franca exclaims, “People say stuff like that to you, but when Benjy says it — Benjy wrote Bill's biography!”
During the two-night Billy & the Kids run at Red Rocks, Eisen and Kreuztmann asked Franca if he wanted to come out for the encores. “We didn't rehearse; we didn't do anything except just play drums in front of the whole Red Rocks crowd,” recollects Franca. “Getting up on stage and playing 'Terrapin Station' with no rehearsal was probably the most fun I've ever had in my life.”
As a guiding force for Thievery Corporation, Franca uses his role to bridge the past and present, re-creating sounds from old recordings whose components have been lost to time and crafting sets that resonate with the crowd. "I really try to keep more of a DJ vibe in to achieve this trance state," Franca explains. The band’s upcoming show at Mission Ballroom on October 21 promises a unique experience, embracing the evolution of the band's sound.
But he also has a new project: the upcoming debut of the Flamingosis live band on November 18 at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom. With Flamingosis, Franca embraces a new challenge. As musical director for the Flamingosis live band, known as Flamingosis and the Bodega Groove Collective, he is tasked with transforming Aaron Velasquez’s sample-based electronica into an orchestrated Latin funk spectacle. Collaborating with local musicians from bands such as Thievery, RECESS, ODEZA and the Motet, he will attempt to imbue the physicality of live instruments into Flamingosis’s catalogue while infusing it with a distinctive Latin influence.
Franco embraces such a harmonious blend of creativity, collaboration and innovation. Musicology Vol 1 is a reflection of his desire for diversity — a philosophy that translates beyond the notes of the music to the direction of the performance itself. And that philosophy has caught the attention of such industry stalwarts as Kreutzmann, who could very well play with whomever he wants to.
Musicology Vol 1 is out on Gravitas Recordings and available on all platforms on Friday, September 1.